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College is a Chinese Buffet

I wrote this on the plane. Now that I’ve spent a full year at USC and a summer in LA, I’ve arrived at this sole conclusion: College is a Chinese buffet. Hear me out.


We all arrive at the same restaurant, a strip mall establishment with neon signs blaring all you can eat for $18.85. We are presented with rows and rows of food, from the familiar, such as chow mein & the fried rice, to the foreign, such as the Maryland blue crab & the monstrous lobster tails. All of it is there for the taking; a free for all. The double doors tirelessly swing open, as the trays of food are perpetually refilled.


We are each allowed 4 plates.


We frantically put our coats on our chairs, grab our first plate, and sprint to the buffet lines, surveying what we should put on our plate. Some of us might jump right in, fill our plates to the absolute brim with anything that remotely catches our eye. From chicken stir-fry to corn on the cob, we’ll heap mounds of food onto our plates until strands of noodles are falling off the sides. Some of us might be more cautious, and carefully select a few familiar food items. Maybe our parents cooked amazing dumplings back home, and we’ll just start off with a little taste of home. Chinese buffets always dedicate a section to your average American fare of chicken nuggets, corndogs, and onion rings. Some of us might even go for that. smh.

Even still, some of us might try something totally new. We might see that spicy tofu, or that eggplant, and although it looks weird af, we put it on our plates anyways. We all walk back to our tables with our plates full of food. Each plate different from the next.


We all sit down to eat. Some of us tuck in right away and discover the dishes we’ve selected are familiar yet delectable, and we’ve already decided that we’ll get exactly the same things for our next plate. Some of us will get food poisoning, and we won’t be able to eat anymore. An ambulance will arrive, and we’ll be shuttled away, our bodies hooked up to iv fluids. Some of us will absolutely detest the food served by this Chinese buffet, and so we’ll go to the buffet next-door, perhaps a Korean or Japanese, our stomach’s only half full.

Still, some of us will find that spicy tofu and eggplant pleasantly delicious, and we’ll tell all of our friends to try it too. Some of us will heap only delicacies like crab legs, lobster tails, and crawfish onto our plates. We’ll have to work to get to the good stuff. Some of us, as we tear into the crabs, lacied with studs and thick shells, will decide the crab meat isn’t worth the work. Some of us will reap the fruits of our labor and will go back for more. Those crab legs took up a lot of space on our plate.


And we go back for our 2nd plate, and so on and so forth. As we go through these next few plates, we might try something new, or we might go for the food we liked on the last time around. Some of us might tap out early.

On our last plate, we might be insanely full beyond belief, but this time, we won’t heap our plates with noodles and fried rice. We’ll have dessert. We’ll go for the vanilla soft serve that we haven’t been able to have our first 3 plates because we’ve spent all of our time tearing into lobster tails and crab legs. We might only select some fruit and some cake for our last plate. The last plate is truly a 180, the polar opposite of what our first plates looked like. I personally love egg tarts and jello.


At the end of the night, we all leave stuffed. Some of us will throw up on the street, but most of us will be ok. We might even get some bubble tea and shaved ice on our way out. But at the end of the night, we’ve all paid the same price: $18.85 (some of us have a Groupon tho). All of the plates of food go to the same place: our stomachs. We have consumed it all.

We’ll all go our separate ways. Never again will we gather like this in such numbers, at this decadent endless buffet. A lot of us have already had our first plate. A lot of us have yet to enter the buffet. As we all move-in this fall, my question to you is: what will you put on your plate?

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